Let Us Make It Difficult For You

Let Us Make It Difficult For You

Don’t Make It Difficult

Although it has been several years since I stopped going to church and started being the church, I do keep tabs on what is going on in the culture of the institution by reading books, listening to preachers on the radio, reading blogs, checking out websites, and the occasional conversation with some friends from my old stomping grounds. Today, I visited the website of The Church at Whistling Pines (NorthPointe 2.0) and listened to a sermon called, “Don’t Make It Difficult,” by Shawn McCracken, the Lead Team Pastor and lead elder there. As with most sermons, it was a mix of truth and error. Unfortunately for McCracken, the byline and mission of WhatGodDoes is “clearing away misconceptions,” which is exactly what I plan to do with his sermon. I encourage you to first listen to the sermon before you continue reading.

The Heavy Yoke

The main problem McCracken seeks to resolve in his sermon is how we, as believers, put a yoke around the necks of people who do not know Jesus. He refers to Acts 15 for an example of a heavy yoke being wrongfully placed on the Gentiles and how the Gentiles came to be relieved of it. Believers can benefit from reading about how the situation was handled, although many of us tend to erroneously think the situation was handled perfectly.

Conflict and Resolution

Acts 15 describes a conflict that broke out among the Pharisee believers and Gentile believers of Antioch. The Pharisees said Gentiles were required to be circumcised and to keep the laws of Moses in order to be saved. Delegates were sent from Antioch to consult with believers in Jerusalem on the matter. During the meeting, the Pharisees, Peter, Paul, Barnabus, James, and others all had their say, and then the final decision was recorded in a letter, which was received with enthusiasm by the church in Antioch. The letter included this statement:

You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

Did the Early Church Return to a Covenant of the Law?

What is this? Is it some sort of compromise between grace and law? It sure looks like a form of law to me, because the focus is on what NOT to do. Paul, who did not dispute the contents of this letter, later circumcised Timothy. Paul shaved his head and participated in sacrificial ceremonies (in compliance with the law, Numbers 6:18, after the covenant of grace had already been established). Apparently, old habits die hard. A covenant of grace for a people who lived, ate, and breathed the law from birth until death for about 2,000 years was a radical new idea.

The Covenant of Grace Trumps the Letter to Believers in Antioch

Paul eventually distanced himself from this letter and encouraged others to distance themselves from the covenant of the law, as is evidenced by his recommendation to the believers in Corinth to “eat whatever is sold in the meat markets,” as well as his rebuke of Peter, who stopped having meals with Gentiles when Jews were around. Paul writes,

If thou, being a Jew, in the manner of the nations dost live, and not in the manner of the Jews, how the nations dost thou compel to Judaize? We by nature Jews, and not sinners of the nations, having known also that a man is not declared righteous by works of law, if not through the faith of Jesus Christ, also we in Christ Jesus did believe, that we might be declared righteous by the faith of Christ, and not by works of law, wherefore declared righteous by works of law shall be no flesh. And if, seeking to be declared righteous in Christ, we ourselves also were found sinners, is then Christ a ministrant of sin? Let it not be! For if the things I threw down, these again I build up, a transgressor I set myself forth, for I through law, did die, that to God I may live…

Paul’s wordy statement is more succinctly explained in Expositor’s Greek Testament:

So argues the Apostle as he turns to his own life for an illustration of the incompatibility of allegiance to Christ with the continued supremacy of the Law.

McCracken, like Paul, emphasized the contrast between law and grace in his sermon, saying,

Our message is not circumcision but reconciliation…

But on the outset, we cannot be telling them what to be changing before they come to Christ, it is up to Jesus to change them…

Relationship with God produces holiness. Man’s imposing of the law never produces holiness…

So, what can we learn from all of this? The believers in Antioch and Jerusalem didn’t handle the situation perfectly, but here’s what they got right:

  • They talked about it.
  • They sharply disputed.
  • They debated.
  • Both sides of the argument were represented.
  • The conflict was not hidden.

Clearing Away Misconceptions

In the introduction to this blog post, I wrote:

The main problem McCracken seeks to resolve in his sermon is how we, as believers, put a yoke around the necks of people who do not know Jesus. He refers to Acts 15 for an example of a heavy yoke being wrongfully placed on the Gentiles and how the Gentiles came to be relieved of it.

If we want to learn about how believers put a yoke around the necks of people who do not know Jesus, then why are we referencing Acts 15? The Gentiles in Antioch don’t fit the description. They were believers. They knew Jesus. They were called “brothers” (adelphos) throughout the text. Strong’s defines adelphos as “a brother, member of the same religious community, especially a fellow-Christian.”

Ironically, the main problem the Spirit of God seeks to resolve through McCracken’s sermon, the main subject the Spirit of God seeks to introduce, finds its way to the surface, despite McCracken’s intended subject. I am continually amazed at how surreptitiously and brilliantly the Spirit of God speaks through the lips of those who reject the very ideas the Spirit communicates through them. God is an Expository Ninja.

What is the problem the Spirit of God seeks to resolve?

In Acts 15, a group of believers who did not yet have an accurate understanding of grace wrongfully placed a heavy yoke (the idea of earning salvation by keeping rules) on the Gentiles believers. The apostle Peter defines the spiritual condition of the Gentiles:

God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.

If the Jewish believers truly understood that Gentile believers were, in every way, equal to the themselves, then what was all this nonsense about having an official meeting, drawing up an official letter, and sending the letter by way of official representatives with official instructions for the Gentile believers in Antioch? If God”did not discriminate between” Gentile believers and Jewish believers, as Peter said, and if God “purified their hearts by faith,” what purpose does the first Christian council in Jerusalem in a.d. 48 serve?

Read between the lines.

The letter effectively demonstrates several disturbing trends that have persisted among believers for almost 2,000 years.

You can read about the disturbing trends or “heavy yoke” and more in the next blog post…

Related blog posts: Reign of God / Reign of HumanityRebranding ReligionEvery Day EasterOn Abortion, Homosexuality, and ObamaOrthotomeo (aka, Rightly Dividing)Whistling Pines’ Barbie God: A Response from a Believer Who Has a Voice5 Ways to Build the Church of Your Dreams & 5 Ways to Destroy ItAbundant LifeThe Light of ScrutinyThe Church Has Left the BuildingYou Can’t Kill God’s Idea, and Aion, The Eternal Torment Four-Letter-Word

  • Stephen Helbig June 27, 2014 at 5:21 am

    Wonderful blog Alice and I am gratefully looking forward to “more in the next blog post… “. ~ The Word of the Lord ~ Brought forth in a “living epistle” ~ His Workmanship (poeima) ~ (His poetry)

    You have sparked a floodgate of living water running thru my heart and mind, but I will just relate for now this one valuable passage, found in Isaiah chapter 28

    9“To whom would He teach knowledge,
    And to whom would He interpret the message?
    Those just weaned from milk?
    Those just taken from the breast?

    10“For He says,
    ‘Order on order, order on order,
    Line on line, line on line,
    A little here, a little there.’”

    11Indeed, He will speak to this people
    Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue,

    12He who said to them, “Here is rest, give rest to the weary,”
    And, “Here is repose,” but they would not listen.

    13So the word of the LORD to them will be,
    “Order on order, order on order,
    Line on line, line on line,
    A little here, a little there,”
    That they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive.

    14Therefore, hear the word of the LORD, O scoffers,
    Who rule this people who are in Jerusalem,

    15Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death,
    And with Sheol we have made a pact.
    The overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by,
    For we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception.”

    16Therefore thus says the Lord GOD,
    “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone,
    A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.
    He who believes in it will not be disturbed.

    17“I will make justice the measuring line
    And righteousness the level;
    Then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies
    And the waters will overflow the secret place.


    p.s. ~ God meets us right where we are, ~ line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little there a little: ~ “But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” ~ and I say, We are all exactly where we are supposed to be at this moment in time!

    p.s.s. ~ (Eph. 2: 21,21) (Mirror Translation)
    2:21 ~ In him everyone of us are like (1)living Lego blocks fitted together of the same fabric (1conversation), giving ever (2)increasing articulation to a global mobile (3)sanctuary intertwined in the Lord. (The word, (1)sunarmologeo, come from sun, meaning union, harmo meaning harmony, and logeo meaning conversation. The word, (2)auxano, means expanding with growth. The word, (3)naos, is translated as the most sacred dwelling space.)
    2:22 ~ In him you are co-constructed together as God’s permanent spiritual residence. You are God’s address!

    p.s.s.t. ~ Becoming all things to all men that we may win some…
    “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

  • Mary Vanderplas June 27, 2014 at 5:36 am

    I agree that the situation described in Acts 15 has to do with certain Jewish believers wrongly insisting that all Christians keep the Law of God as revealed to Moses. However, I don’t agree with what you say and imply about the council being a waste of time, about it serving no useful purpose. What Luke portrays in this chapter is devout believers coming together to settle an important issue in the life of the early church: namely, whether circumcision and other rituals of the Mosaic Law were to be upheld forever, as some believed they were, based on the testimony of scripture and on the fact that Jesus himself was circumcised, or whether these rituals were only given for Jews and did not apply to Gentile believers. This was a hugely important question in the life of the early church. That they came together to discuss and decide the matter once and for all seems to me to be an unqualifiedly positive development in the church’s history. I don’t disagree with what you say about the equality of Jews and Gentiles and about acceptance by God depending on God’s grace in Christ, not on keeping the Law as revealed to Moses. But I think that it’s unfair to blast the early believers for not knowing better when it came to the question of whether the Gentiles, too, had to keep the Law; and I think it’s misguided to imply that the issues discussed and decided here should not have been a source of concern. The early church grew and developed in its understanding over time and through dialogue in response to new situations. The council recorded in Acts 15 is one of those occasions.

    • admin June 28, 2014 at 6:53 pm

      I do believe the council served a purpose, and I don’t think it was a waste of time. I agree that the issues being discussed were important. Regarding methods of decision-making and dialogue in response to new situations, I agree that the early church grew and developed in its understanding over time. But much of that growth and development of spiritual understanding took place outside of councils. The growth and development that took place as a human institution began with the first council and evolved (went from simple to complex, growing geographically and politically in influence, etc) from there. I’ll get into that as this series continues…

  • Lanny A. Eichert June 27, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    Alice, it has been several years since you stopped going to church and started being the church is evidence that you’re an erring self-proclaimed Christian, meaning you’re not one at all. You can’t be the church since the church is an assembly not an individual. Furthermore you seek to tear down rather build up the church. You’re anti-church, so you’re antichristian.

    • admin June 28, 2014 at 6:31 pm

      What is an assembly?

      (According to HELPS word studies) 1577 ekklēsía(from 1537 /ek, “out from and to” and 2564 /kaléō, “to call”) – properly, people called out from the world and to God, the outcome being the Church (the mystical body of Christ) – i.e. the universal (total) body of believers whom God calls out from the world and into His eternal kingdom.

      [The English word “church” comes from the Greek word kyriakos, “belonging to the Lord” (kyrios). 1577 /ekklēsía (“church”) is the root of the terms “ecclesiology” and “ecclesiastical.”]

      • Lanny A. Eichert June 28, 2014 at 6:59 pm

        “people called out from the world and to God”
        NOT a single person.

        “the mystical body of Christ”
        NOT a single member of the body

        “the universal (total) body of believers whom God calls out from the world”
        NOT a believer, but believerS.

        Read your own words !!! (total)

  • Lanny A. Eichert June 28, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    “people called out from the world and to God”
    NOT a single person.

    “the mystical body of Christ”
    NOT a single member of the body

    “the universal (total) body of believers whom God calls out from the world”
    NOT a believer, but believerS.

    Read your own words !!! (total)

  • Ancient Landmarks - January 6, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    […] you have not yet read Let Us Make It Difficult for You and Disturbing Trends, reading these first will give context to this blog post, part three of […]

  • Post a comment

    Threaded commenting powered by interconnect/it code.